Some brands become part of national consciousness. As Bajaj scooter rode into history this past week, the country saw a kind of emotional outpouring as if a family member is no more. Spin doctors are calling it a generational shift linking to the change of guard in the Bajaj family but for the man on the street it is the demise of his trusted Chetak.
It was one of last symbols of the times when technology hadn't taken control of our lives, riding pillion didn't mean one person on the back seat and licence raj was very much in place.
Almost everybody has a Bajaj moment to share. Rajesh Kumar reminisces how he took his newly wed all the way from Aligarh to Hissar on his Chetak with luggage. “I had a kind of belief that it will not ditch me. After all my father rode his Bajaj Cub till he died at the age of 75.”
Medical student, Dishant Malik relates how his faith in his father's scooter multiplied the day he travelled from Mathura to Delhi to appear in CBSE Medical entrance. “There was a bus strike but my father was confident that the scooter will see us through. The Stepney (spare wheel) used to add to the confidence.”
Adman Prahlad Kakkar puts things in perspective. “The scooter was originally designed for the young but in India Bajaj and the ad agencies hyped it as a family vehicle. It worked because women loved it for the space it offered on the pillion seat and the variety of things one can carry on scooter. As it began to lose out to relatively sturdy and sexy bikes, the company did try to reinvent it with four stroke and gearless scooters. They did manage to attract girls from the pillion to the front seat but lost the young male customer.” Suddenly he had plenty of options and nobody can beat a Bajaj no longer remain a fact.
As for emotional connect, R. Balki, Chairman of Lowe India, the agency which created the legendary Hamara Bajaj campaign says, “It would have worked for any other vehicle as well. Bajaj didn't mean scooters; it meant it made vehicles which the nation drove. At that time it was scooters, now it is motorcycles.”
Kakkar holds that the swagger and the connect came from the fact that it was the first ‘thet' (desi) brand that gave us enhanced mobility after Hero cycles. “Though initially the technology came from Italian Vespa, there was no Vespa or Suzuki attached to the brand.”
Over the years, the generation which believed in Buland bharat ki buland tasveer has lost out to a fill it, shut it, forget it generation.
Sudhir Kumar, technical in-charge, at a Bajaj service station, says, “It worked for a generation when the service station culture had not set in and the vehicles were easily maintained by the neighbourhood mechanic. The low maintenance cost and long life contributed to its popularity. It used to be a great option to gift to the groom.”
Sudhir indicates towards the changing decisions makers in Indian families. “Earlier it was the head of the family who used to decide what's good for the family. Today it's the youngsters, who prefer fashionable vehicles with speed. Also, technically speaking, mileage, placement of engine and wheel base tilted the balance in bikes' favour.”
Rajesh Raheja, manager of a Shiva Bajaj showroom, says, “Though practically the scooter is not in the showrooms in the NCR for last three-four years, we still get queries about Chetak. Mostly it is from the middle-aged aged people. They get shocked when I say we no longer sell Chetak.”
However the internet, the medium of expression for the young, is full of sentimental messages. Neha writes, “My dad had a Bajaj Priya for 13 years, followed by a Chetak for 16 full years before we kind of blackmailed him to switch to a Honda Activa. This news makes me so so sad! Brings in a gushing load of memories.”
Perhaps the youth connect comes from the fact that for many of us it was the first motor vehicle in life and the one on which we polished our driving skills. “My uncle booked it for himself. After patiently waiting for days when he got it he realised Chetak is too high for his comfort. My father bought it from him. I used to clean it for Abbu every morning and loved standing in the spacious front. Then one day he decided to teach me. I carried on the tradition when my brother started feeling the rush of hormones,” says Shahid Khan, showcasing the 1988-model.
“Its strength has been an inspirational factor. I can still exert all my weight on its chassis. You can't do it with new versions. Now we use it for carrying load for our pharmaceuticals business.” At the Ghazipur crossing you can see meat vendors carrying loads of chicken and Pizza delivery boys rely on scooters for keeping pace with the quick delivery time their companies promise.
Who says it lacks masculine appeal? Perhaps our films, where it is presented as the vehicle of the docile and honest. Shah Rukh Khan drove it when he played a docile government babu, Suriji in Rab Ne Bana De Jodi and recently Rocket Singh carried his crusade against corruption on a scooter gifted by his grandfather. Milind Soman, who loves to drive a gearless scooter, says it's a marketing gimmick to present bikes as a masculine option. “The generational shift happened in the ‘80s when Tom Cruise rode a bike in Top Gun.”
Kakkar says the company could reinvent the brand as an antique vehicle for export market like Bullet and Harley Davidson.
Amidst all this, there is a set of people, who are chuckling under their breath. The petrol pump attendants are happy that soon they won't have to spend extra time and attention in mixing 2T oil in petrol.
It is all about time, honey!